Should Apple make iPad Pro compatible with a mouse? [Friday Night Fights]

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iPad Pro Keyboard Mouse
Would you use a mouse with iPad?
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Apple is again trying to convince fans that the iPad Pro is a suitable PC replacement. Earlier this week, the company rolled out new ads that remind us why its high-end slate is better (in some ways) than a desktop. But there’s just one problem.

Friday Night Fights bugiPad Pro, like other iOS devices, isn’t compatible with a mouse or trackpad. That’s fine in most cases, but many users would like to use a mouse for all manner of things, and Apple doesn’t allow it. Should this change in a future version of iOS?

Join us in this week’s Friday Night Fight as we discuss why mouse compatibility might be great for iPad Pro, and why it might be pointless!

Killian Bell FNFKillian Bell: I have to disagree with Apple’s latest iPad Pro ads, since I don’t think the iPad Pro is a good laptop or PC replacement. It certainly has some nice features, and it does a small few things better than a desktop. But for the vast majority of people, a tablet running iOS isn’t enough to replace their Mac or PC entirely.

So, I’ve been thinking about things Apple can do to change that. It seems highly unlikely it will merge macOS and iOS anytime soon to make the iPad Pro a Surface-like 2-in-1, but it could make iOS more like a desktop operating system. I think a good start would be to make it compatible with a mouse or trackpad.

It sounds simple, but we do so many things with a mouse and trackpad that we have to use our fingers for on the iPad — and it can be a pain in many instances. If you’re using a Smart Keyboard for an extended period — maybe you’re working on a lengthy report — you don’t want to have to keep reaching up to the screen to adjust formatting or move the cursor. A mouse makes this so much easier. It could also give greater precision in image and video editing apps, and even improve the experience in some games — like first-person shooters that tend to be horrible with touch controls.

Android is already compatible with a mouse, so I can’t see why iOS shouldn’t be. It’s a simple change that is only going to improve the user experience for those who prefer to use a mouse or trackpad for certain tasks. What do you think?

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke Dormehl: Honestly, I don’t hate the idea — but I think you’re making some fundamental mistakes. I’m not against accessories for the iPad at all. I use the Apple Pencil almost every day and, as accessories go, I’d probably have to go back as far as the Apple Extended Keyboard to find one I love quite so much. The brilliance of the multitouch technology is that, by allowing you to point directly with your finger, you remove the “middleman” of the mouse completely. The Apple Pencil takes that idea and adds finer levels of accurate control and different types of input, like using the side of the Pencil rather than just its tip, in a way that wouldn’t work with the finger.

So why have a mouse, rather than incorporating the Pencil more deeply into iOS?

Ultimately, I wouldn’t mind giving users a choice, in the same way you can choose a trackpad or a muse on the Mac, but I think you’re wrong when you suggest Apple should just slap the mouse technology on top of its existing interface. That reminds me very much of the gimmicky features that look promising, but remain “tacked on” extras and therefore don’t have a fundamental impact on the way you interact with a device.

If Apple allows a separate mouse to work on the iPad Pro, that automatically makes it less of a mobile device, because you need to have a surface to rest the mouse on. There’s no problem there necessarily: a lot of people would like to see Apple merge aspects of its mobile and desktop systems to create something new. But that requires a much more fundamental software-based rethink. Not just adding an option that gives you a mouse pointer on screen with the existing iOS.

Killian Bell FNFKillian But in some cases, taking away the “middleman” has a negative impact on the task you’re carrying out. And as I mentioned before, it’s a pain to keep reaching up to the screen when you’re using an external keyboard for an extended period. The Apple Pencil — as wonderful as it is — presents the same problem.

Apple wouldn’t need to make any major changes to iOS to make it compatible with a mouse. There’s no reason why a pointer over the existing user interface wouldn’t work fine — just like it does on Android. Touch interfaces don’t need to be adjusted for mice in the same way that desktop interfaces need to be adjusted for touch input.

It doesn’t need to impact portability, either. Why can’t Apple just add a trackpad to the Smart Keyboard in the same way Microsoft integrates a trackpad into its Type Cover for the Surface? And compatibility for Bluetooth mice is an option for those who use their iPad Pro at a desk and would prefer that.

This wouldn’t be a gimmick. It’s a change lots of iPad Pro users would find incredibly useful. Adding it would not require any significant changes that would ruin the experience for others, so Apple has nothing to lose. It would be catering to a large number of people who want to use a mouse without alienating those who don’t. It’s a win-win.

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke: Well, except for the fact that iPad sales continue to decline quarter-by-quarter. If you see that there’s enough demand to make the iPad Pro into the productivity tool Apple initially marketed it as, why not fully embrace that rather than making it an added extra that’s just going to fragment the user experience. I seem to recall you and I having a similar disagreement over the Touch Bar.

I get it, you like having gimmicky options that will fit certain use-cases, but I always appreciated that Apple chose the one best way to do something and then pushed ahead with it. Why do I get the feeling that, had we had this conversation in 1984, you’d be suggesting that the Mac give users equal access to macOS and DOS, and that the mouse pointer should be easily replaceable by the keyboard if you don’t want to use it? This half-hearted approach to incorporating new design elements may be okay in some cases, but I just see it as moving further away from Apple’s philosophy of a streamlined, simple UX.

Killian Bell FNFKillian: In what way would adding a new input option — which would not require any interface changes — fragment the user experience? How would it be any different to adding Apple Pencil support? Everything you can do with Apple Pencil can be done with your finger; it’s just better and more accurate at some tasks. Using a mouse would be the same.

Again, this would not be a gimmick — and I’m confident readers will back me up on this, whether they would use a mouse with iOS themselves or not. As I keep saying, this would not have a negative impact on other iOS users; it would just improve the experience for a lot of people. It could even improve accessibility for those who find it difficult to interact with a touchscreen.

Maybe this philosophy of a streamlined and simple UX you’re talking about isn’t working here. You mention iPad Pro sales keep falling, while there’s increasing demand for 2-in-1s like the Microsoft Surface. Maybe it is time Apple acknowledged that and offered something similar, rather than just accepting no one is interested in iPad anymore and only rolling out incremental upgrades alongside fancy ads that try to convince us the iPad is a suitable PC replacement?

Luke Dormehl FNFLuke The point is that by offering lots of alternative options, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and then forcing them to do broadly the same thing, you don’t get to use them to their full potential. Again, what you’re suggesting is the equivalent of introducing a mouse with the first-gen Mac (or the Lisa before it), but making it an optional extra so that developers and Apple engineers have to make sure that whatever can be done with the mouse can equally well be done with the keyboard. It stifles innovation and it’s a lazy response.

Do I think a few users would like it? Of course — go back to the clone Mac era and there were a number of people who loved them, despite it being a fundamentally flawed move for Apple. Would I rather that Apple actually addressed the conflation of the mobile and desktop experience in a way that wasn’t just a quick “oh, let’s give them a mouse!” fix? Definitely.

But let’s turn this over to readers. Would you like to see a mouse incorporated onto the iPad? How would you like to see this done, and is it necessary for Apple’s tablet to reach its full potential? Leave your comments below. And have a great weekend!

Friday Night Fights is a series of weekly death matches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?